AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott sent a tweet Wednesday calling for harsher punishments for teachers who engage in sexual relationships with students.
It came after another teacher in Dallas was placed under investigation for sleeping with one of her middle school students.
The Texas Education Agency says from September 2016 through December 2016, they’ve investigating 80 reports of inappropriate relationships.
In Central Texas last year, teachers in Cedar Park, Manor and Llano were accused of inappropriate relationships with students. Now, lawmakers say it’s gone too far, they’re working to stop what they call “loopholes” in the law first revealed more than a year ago in a KXAN investigation.
“Look, if you’re a certified teacher in the state of Texas, you just got to leave students alone! Let kids be kids,” State Rep. Tony Dale, Republican from Cedar Park, says. He wants to make sure teachers who prey on students never see a classroom again.
“School districts are having these problems and teachers are being allowed to resign and move to another school district where they re-offend,” Rep. Dale says.
He says right now in Texas it’s illegal for a teacher to have an inappropriate relationship with a student in their own district, but there’s no law that says a teacher can’t have a relationship with a student from a different district.
“You should be able to trust the teacher not to try to come onto a student whether it be a girl or a boy,” Jesse Salazar said. He has a granddaughter who attends an Austin ISD high school. He says learning about the loopholes is upsetting and frustrating.
It’s an issue parents and legislators can both see eye to eye on, Rep. Dale’s House Bill 218 wants to make sure any sexual relationship with a student is illegal. “You go to school to learn, you shouldn’t have to worry about someone preying on you,” he said.
Another big problem Dale sees is a loophole for sex offenders. Right now, if a teacher commits a sex crime, according to Dale, they can technically still be allowed to teach. “Someone who has a teaching certificate could get convicted of a sex crime and end up on the sex offender registry list, but if they get deferred adjudication which is a form of probation they don’t automatically lose their teachings license.”
His bill would immediately revoke a perpetrator’s teaching certificate. Dale is also working alongside the Texas Education Agency and the governor’s office as he drafts his bills.
He’s planning to file another bill that would create a list of offenders that private schools, parents and even other states can look at, to make sure students everywhere are safe.